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Russians Make an Impact on Mixed Martial Arts

MOSCOW — Inside the Fight Nights gym just off Kutuzovsky Prospekt, a street named after the Russian general who defeated Napoleon, a few dozen pugilists were in training recently. It was late morning, and an instructor barked commands to the men as they grappled, punched, ducked and sweated on the front line of Moscow’s mixed martial arts scene.

To jump on the bandwagon for mixed martial arts, nearly all the fighters had left behind other, less glamorous, martial arts such as wrestling, kickboxing and, especially, Sambo, a Russian combat sport which is an acronym that translates to “self-defense without weapons.” Many of the competitors hoped Fight Nights, which is the largest promoter in Russia, would serve as a way station en route to the fame and fortune of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the sport’s most prestigious battleground, a continent away in the United States.

Photo

Mirzaev shadow boxing. He is undefeated at 15-0.

Credit
James Hill for The New York Times

Some of their friends had already made the leap. The fighters in this gym had gravitated to Moscow…

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